To cook a perfect steak, use math

A mathematical simulation reproduces the juicy interior of a delicious cut of oven-roasted meat


When a steak cooks, the exterior dries out while the inside becomes deliciously juicy, according to a mathematical model of meat cooking.

Emerson Vieira/Unsplash

Hala Nelson and her colleagues wanted to cook the perfect steak. So they decided to use math.

The researchers created a mathematical simulation of a lean slab of beef roasting in an oven. That simulation successfully reproduced the temperatures and moisture levels seen within meat in laboratory experiments previously performed by food scientists, the team reports March 23 in European Physical Journal Plus.

In the simulation, the steak consists of a two-dimensional network of proteins filled with fluid. Mathematical equations determine what happens as the simulated meat cooks. For example, the proteins are deformed, water evaporates, and the steak shrinks. The exterior of the steak dries out, while liquid moves toward the center, making the interior nice and juicy.

Based on how well-done you prefer your steak, and how moist you want it inside, you can use the results of the study to determine how to cook it to perfection, says Nelson, an applied mathematician at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. But she hasn’t changed her cooking technique: “I still make my husband cook the steak.”

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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